Turning investment triumphs at tier 1 aerospace supplier

One of the Nakamura AS200 machines at Merc Aerospace
One of the Nakamura AS200 machines at Merc Aerospace

Lancashire-based Merc Aerospace has recently augmented its machining capabilities by investing in a number of Nakamura-Tome turning machines from the Engineering Technology Group, leading to higher productivity for its prestigious aerospace customers. PES reports.

The aerospace industry has certainly encountered a turbulent period throughout the pandemic. However, for Tier 1 aerospace suppliers that have invested in the latest flexible multi-tasking machine tools, the hiatus has had less of an impact on business.

This is certainly the case for Merc Aerospace – its pre- and post-pandemic investment in Nakamura-Tome turning centres from the Engineering Technology Group (ETG) is perhaps testament to why more companies should be considering this technology.

Prior to the pandemic, Merc Aerospace in Barrowford, Lancashire made a conscious effort to incorporate more one-hit machining technology into its facility. The company initially replaced five older machine tools with two Nakamura WT150IIs as part of its commitment to lean manufacturing, reducing lead-times for customers that include Airbus, AgustaWestland, BAE Systems and Bombardier.

First arrivals

The Nakamura AS200L machine on the shopfloor in Barrowford
The Nakamura AS200L machine on the shopfloor in Barrowford

Merc Aerospace took delivery of its first Nakamura-Tome WT150 IIF twin-spindle twin turret turning centre in October 2017 and it immediately replaced two existing machines while drastically improving productivity. This model was once again adopted when the second WT150 IIF arrived in March 2018.

Like any diligent business that recognises it had benefitted from its machine tool investment strategy – the next step was to build on that approach. The company then took delivery of a twin spindle triple turret Nakamura NTY3-150 multi-axis turning centre in April 2019. With the aerospace industry returning to pre-pandemic levels and Merc being well positioned to support its customers, the company purchased a Nakamura AS200LMSY sub-spindle turning centre in 2021 – and another in May 2022.

“Historically, we had invested ad hoc in our machine shop and the turning centres on our shopfloor were a representation of numerous high-end brands,” Merc Aerospace’s managing director Richard Meade states.

“We developed a strategy for investment and we knew the Nakamura brand had an excellent reputation in the marketplace. We looked at several Nakamuras and the WT150 IIF was the perfect fit. Typically, we machine relatively complex parts from exotic materials that range from 5-off to 100s and our set-ups could be an hour to days. The WT150 IIF machines changed all this.”

Describing the WT150 IIF as “the perfect utility machine”, Mr Meade adds: “The twin-spindle, twin-turret configuration has been a gamechanger. It has increased flexibility and throughput and one Nakamura proved 30% more productive than the two machines that it replaced.

“Additionally, we had a range of sliding head machines that are better suited to higher production runs rather than the batches we run in the hundreds. The Nakamura’s wiped out our sliding head machines as the sliders were restricted to diameters well below 50mm and the set-up and changeover times were excessive for our batch sizes.”

Triple turret advantages

With the WT150 IIF machines making such an impact at Merc, the company took the next step and opted for the Nakamura NTY3-150 – a twin spindle machine with three tooling turrets that can all be engaged simultaneously. Primarily machining fuel injection and gas turbine components, the ability to engage three tool turrets simultaneously has made a big impact.

In one of many instances, the NTY3-150 has reduced cycle times from one hour 10 minutes on a previous twin-spindle machine to just 35 minutes.

“With the NTY3-150 machine you do need the right type of work to justify the investment, but providing you tick that box, it really is an excellent machine. We’d buy a second machine straightaway,” Mr Meade affirms.

The Nakamura WT150 has been a great utility machine at the tier 1 aerospace supplier
The Nakamura WT150 has been a great utility machine at the tier 1 aerospace supplier

With the passing of the pandemic, demand has rapidly picked up at Merc Aerospace with turnover and workload increasing significantly in a short period. With both twin-spindle twin turret and twin-spindle triple turret technology on the shopfloor and a swelling order book, Merc needed to invest in more machines.

“With the WT150 IIF and NTY3-150 making such a huge impact in our turning department, we turned to ETG and Nakamura once again when we needed more machines to fulfil our growing order book,” Mr Meade explains.

“We needed machines with even shorter set-ups that could react to the fluctuation in workload and the type of work that every business encounters. The AS200-LMSY is an extremely nimble machine that can react quickly to our diverse demands.

“We do a lot of in-service spares work for BAE Systems, producing low volume, fast turnaround parts for the Hawk, Harrier and Tornado – and the AS200 is perfect for this work. So perfect in fact we followed the first machine with a second earlier this year. The AS200 provides one-hit machining capability with fast set-ups, which is ideal for short-run work that is required on short lead-times.”

Providing an overview of the Nakamura machines, Mr Meade comments: “The guys on the shopfloor say the Nakamuras are the best machines that they have ever worked with – and that in itself is testament to the user-friendly and intuitive user interface and construction of the machines.

“From a build quality perspective, there is virtually no warm-up cycle, unlike our other machine tools. The rigidity and build quality is far superior to other brands on our shopfloor and this is also reflected in the Nakamura’s requiring less preventative maintenance and the fact that we rarely need to call out ETG’s engineers.”

Taking control further

Looking at the technology behind the Nakamura machines, the Smart X CNC control panel and software technology is making a considerable impact at Merc Aerospace. The system incorporates features like the 3D Smart Pro AI to analyse toolpaths and cutting conditions.

The Thermo Navigator for thermal growth compensation and the NT Machine Simulation and Collision Guard – are just a few features that contribute to speeding up the set-up and changeover process. Additionally, the interface incorporates Industry 4.0 technology with factory visualisation, layout, a list of connected machines and machine status.

The Nakamura-Tome NTY3-150
The Nakamura-Tome NTY3-150

“The Smart X interface has a complete Industry 4.0 suite, so we can adopt numerous technologies as the business evolves,” Mr Meade concludes. “We are looking at retrofitting the oscillating cutting cycles on the machines to break chips and prevent swarf from wrapping around the tools or re-cutting, as this will extend our unattended running times.

“We have also adopted Renishaw in-process probing on the NTY3-150 and both AS200 machines. This gives our operators more confidence to leave them running for long periods unattended.

“With technology like in-process probing and IoT technology, we can further extend the potential of the Nakamura machines in the future.”

Merc Aerospace

Engineering Technology Group

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